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ADHD - how it can affect teenagers

ADD; ADHD; attention; deficit; disorder; hyperactivity; school; stimulants; medications;

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Secondary school and ADHD

ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (see our topic 'ADHD - what is it'). ADHD is sometimes called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Someone with ADHD may begin to fall way behind other young people of the same age at school, even though they would be able to do well if their ADHD was under control.

  • They may have missed out on learning a lot of things when they younger – when they need that knowledge in higher grades, they cannot succeed.
  • In higher grades, students need to be able to sit still and concentrate for longer periods of time – this may be more than many students with ADHD can manage, and they may get into trouble with teachers.
  • If no one at school knows they have ADHD, it may mean that they are not getting the special help they need.
  • For young people who are not able to plan and organise themselves (eg. they don't hear the teacher's instructions, or lose assignments and homework), school gets very difficult – this can result in poor marks, being kept back in lower grades, poor self-esteem, skipping days at school and leaving school early.

Giving school your best shot

It is best if teachers know that you have ADHD, so that they help by making sure:

  • you have a quiet place in the classroom to learn
  • there is a timetable and lesson plan for you to follow if you are not sure what to do next
  • that you are quietly reminded to be quiet and still
  • that they can encourage you and praise you when you stay on task
  • that they understand you may need help in setting goals
  • that you have a behaviour management plan in place
  • that you understand what work to do and when it needs to be handed in
  • that you respect the rights of your teacher to teach and the other kids’ right to learn.

If your teachers know about your ADHD, they will be pleased when you have done well, because they know it takes a lot of work for you to learn and manage your behaviour.

Homework can be a problem, but you can cope if you:

  • set clear times for starting, and for finishing
  • have a written plan for what needs to be done, and when it has to be finished
  • have a place where you can study without distractions.

You will need to work out what suits you best, as some students find it easier to study when there is loud music playing because it blocks out other noises (this does not work for everyone!!).

Make sure that you have some exercise every day. You might join a club or a school team, walk or run the dog, skate or ride a bike. Exercise is a great way of using up energy after you have been sitting still for most of the day, and you will feel more like getting that homework done afterwards.

Friends

Children with ADHD often have difficulty making and keeping friends because of their behaviour. They often break rules, have difficulty taking turns or sharing, and especially have trouble staying still. Others can become angry with them and exclude them. As teenagers they may find they don’t have many friends, or the friends they have are the other kids who also get into a lot of trouble.

Everyone has problems with friends sometimes. All friendships have to be worked at. If you have ADHD, you may have to work very hard to make, and then keep, friends.

It’s worth the effort!

Getting on with brothers and sisters

Having a brother or sister (a sibling) with ADHD can be difficult too. Some of the ways that siblings can be affected are:

  • feeling left out because the one with ADHD seems to get all the attention
  • being annoyed by their brother or sister's behaviour - either dreamy and inattentive behaviour or very active behaviour
  • having parents who often are tired or angry
  • feeling embarrassed, for example in a supermarket, where their sister or brother is running about all over the place.

Managing your ADHD

  • ADHD can be managed by learning new behaviours and often by using medication.
  • Treatment with medication may help you to be more calm and focused.
  • Often people with ADHD will be able to stop their medication one day because they will have worked out how to manage their own behaviour and how to focus on tasks they need to do.

Usually all people get better at controlling their own behaviour as they get older, but without help, including medication sometimes, people with ADHD may have difficult times at school.

Using medication

Not everyone with ADHD uses medication, but it can be very helpful. About 80% of children and young people get some benefit from medication.

  • Several medications have been used for many years for ADHD, mainly methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dexamphetamine.
  • They work well for most people with ADHD, but they do have some side effects (such as loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping).
  • They should only be used in the way that the doctor has said to use them.
  • Usually they are used for several months to see if they make a difference, then many people stay on them for several years.
  • Because the aim is to eventually stop taking them, other ways of learning how to manage more easily should be tried at the same time.

Feeling good

Young people with ADHD can find it difficult to feel good about themselves. Many things that others take for granted are hard for them.

  • Often, other people just notice 'bad' behaviour instead of looking at all the good things about the person. See our topic on 'Self esteem and confidence' for ideas on ways to improve how you feel about yourself.
  • If you have a friend with ADHD, you can help by concentrating on the things your friend does well and letting him you know you've noticed.

Resources

South Australia

  • The Attention Disorders Association of SA (ADASA)
    302 South Road, Hilton SA 5033 
    Telephone: 8152 0187
    Fax: 8152 0447
    Email: admin@adasa.com.au
    http://adasa.com.au    
  • Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) SA
    - telephone: 8223 7522, country callers 1800 182 179
    www.dircsa.org.au

General

Further reading

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government:
'Draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD' (2009)

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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